The Transformation of U.S. Unions: Voices, Visions, and Strategies from the Grassroots

By Ray M. Tillman; Michael S. Cummings | Go to book overview

4
Labor:Turning the Corner
Will Take More than Mobilization
Michael Eisenscher

It has been called the postwar labor-management accord, social compact or contract, industrial truce, accommodation, and détente. By whatever name, out of the years during and immediately following World War II emerged a system of labor relations markedly different from that preceding the war. The New Deal–era labor movement, which had been engaged in sharp, seemingly intractable conflicts with the nation's corporate giants, had been guided by solidarity, militant collective action, considerable membership initiative and authority, and a broad sense of class interest—earning it the characterization as a social movement unionism. It included a significant number of workers who questioned the very assumptions on which capitalist relations of production were founded and who had an alternative, socialist vision for society.

A very different labor movement emerged from the decades immediately following the war—one that placed a premium on stable and responsible relations with management, social respectability, insider political access, and pursuit of a middle-class lifestyle. It accepted and even celebrated the achievements and constraints of modern industrial capitalist society. Its former adversaries in the U. S. corporate world no longer sought organized labor's destruction; they sought instead a reliable (junior) partner in production for an expanding consumer economy. 1

The terrain dramatically shifted again in the decades of the 1970s and 1980s, yet the labor movement continued to cling tenaciously to its past— not to the militant social movement of the New Deal years but to the conservative era of the Cold War. As the economic, political, and social ground shifted under the postwar labor movement, it suffered a persistent and continuing decline in its membership, power, and influence. From its mid-1950s peak of over 35 percent of the paid labor force, unions now represent less than 15 percent (in the private sector near 10 percent). Once

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The Transformation of U.S. Unions: Voices, Visions, and Strategies from the Grassroots
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents v
  • Introduction 1
  • Notes *
  • 1 - A New Labor Movement in the Shell of the Old? 9
  • 2 - A Rising Tide of Union Democracy 27
  • Notes *
  • 3 - The New Afl-Cio: No Salvation from on High for the Working Stiff 49
  • 4 - Labor:Turning the Corner Will Take More Than Mobilization 61
  • Notes *
  • 5 - Learning from the Past to Build the Future 87
  • 6 - The Dynamics of Change 97
  • Notes *
  • 7 - Unsung Heroes of Union Democracy: Rank-And-File Organizers 117
  • Notes *
  • 8 - Reform Movement in the Teamsters and United Auto Workers 137
  • Notes *
  • 9 - Hell on Wheels: Organizing Among New York City's Subway and Bus Workers 167
  • Notes *
  • 10 - The Local Union: a Rediscovered Frontier 191
  • 11 - Restructuring Labor's Identity: the Justice for Janitors Campaign in Washington, D. C. 203
  • Notes *
  • 12 - Lessons from the Umwa 219
  • Notes *
  • 13 - Cross-Border Alliances in the Era of Globalization 239
  • Notes *
  • 14 - A Strategic Organizing Alliance Across Borders 255
  • Notes *
  • Conclusion: Union Democracy and Social Unionism 267
  • Notes *
  • Selected Readings 275
  • The Contributors 279
  • Index 283
  • About the Book 297
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